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Costa Rica Spanish Immersion Experience
Old 02-10-2016, 06:18 AM   #1
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Costa Rica Spanish Immersion Experience

Hola!

I had a few inquiries about my recent Spanish immersion experience in Costa Rica (recent as in I just finished unpacking yesterday!), so I thought I'd share my thoughts here rather than hijack the What Did You Do Today? thread.

Let me start by saying the overall experience was fantastic. Harder than I would have ever imagined to 'stay' in Spanish mode 24/7, but still fantastic.

I participated in a program run by CPI Spanish Immersion School, a well regarded, long time language immersion school in Costa Rica. I did this program on my own, without DH, and CPI took care of every detail, starting with their meet-and-greet at the airport in San Jose when I arrived.

The program has lots of options, from homestays with local Costa Rican families, to private apartments. I opted not to do a homestay for my first go-round, because I enjoy having a bit of privacy each day, and because this was also about enjoying Costa Rica, not just immersing myself in the language.

For people more intent on really ramping up their Spanish, I'd highly recommend a homestay. Your surroundings might be a bit more sparse as a result, but you'll be completely immersed in Spanish, a definite benefit.

The basic program offers four hours of language study each day, Monday through Friday, then a combination of trips in the afternoon to enjoy all that Costa Rica has to offer. CPI has three campuses in Costa Rica - Heredia, which is near San Jose, Flamingo, which is on the beach, and Monteverde, which is in the cloud forest.

I split my time between Heredia and Flamingo, one week in each. Were I to do it again, I would bypass Heredia, and choose Monteverde and Flamingo instead, as Heredia is 'just' a city, where the other two have a lot more small town charm IMO.

The classes were very small, ranging from two to four students each, and the instruction was excellent. The teachers seemed extremely well trained in Spanish grammar, which I believe I now know better than English grammar! There was nightly homework to enhance what had been covered in class, and I learned a tremendous amount as a result. Though I didn't partake this time around, there were options to take additional classes in the afternoon.

Although the school has vans to take students to and from class, I opted to walk instead so I could get a little exercise, and experience street life in the process. It proved to be a wonderful way to start and end the school day, and I was able to practice a little Spanish in the process.

My fellow students proved to be an incredibly diverse lot. CPI has a program dedicated to those in the medical field (i.e. terminology heavy) so there were several doctors amidst my fellow students. I also met two foreign diplomats preparing for upcoming assignments in Spanish speaking countries, retirees working on their language skills, young people exploring career options that speaking Spanish might provide, teachers in Spanish-heavy communities, and, for some reason, quite a few Swedes that simply wanted to add Spanish to their list of spoken languages.

During the weekends there were numerous trips offered to both enjoy Costa Rica's natural beauty and provide transportation to the next school (though some students elected to take all of their classes at one campus, most split their time between two or all three). The weekend trips were very reasonably priced, which resulted in some pretty sparse housing, I won't lie, but were still loaded with fun and interesting activities.

Highlights: Speaking and being understood in Spanish (yeah!), waking up to the sounds of tropical birds and, often, howler monkeys, shopping at the local mercado for my nightly dinner fixings, the incredibly helpful local Costa Ricans who, used to having Spanish students in their mix, helped correct my numerous errors at every turn.

Lowlights: The frustration of trying to make myself understood in a non-native to me language (!). A good humbling experience to be sure.

Now that I'm home, my plan is to study, study, study and return again in about two years for another go-round.
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Old 02-10-2016, 07:07 AM   #2
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Great write up, ET. Thanks! Sounds like a very good program. Now, how are you going to keep your proficiency level up?
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Old 02-10-2016, 07:15 AM   #3
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May I suggest searching your local area for spanish-english meetups? We regularly attend a couple here in Austin to keep our chops up. We took one large group and one small group class in Mexico during the first half of 2015. Don't want to lose it! We're also continuing to work our way through the McGraw-Hill Spanish Verb Tenses book.

We have also been in Costa Rica - muy bonita, verdad?
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Old 02-10-2016, 07:23 AM   #4
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Great write up, ET. Thanks! Sounds like a very good program. Now, how are you going to keep your proficiency level up?
I am very fortunate to be within a few miles of a university offering OLLI courses for retirees, which offer six different Spanish courses currently. I happen to have Spanish II this morning, and conversational Spanish tonight.

I also got the name of a Spanish tutor based out of Mexico that converses one on one via Skype, payment made through PayPal. I've already booked him for one session a week.

All of the above, plus ongoing time spent online using Rosetta Stone and Duolingo, and I should continue to progress. It may take me years and years, but I am determined to reach a basic level of fluency!

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We have also been in Costa Rica - muy bonita, verdad?
Si, es muy cierto.
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Old 02-10-2016, 07:31 AM   #5
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Thanks for posting this ElizabethT. It was very informative, and I wasn't aware of this immersion school till now.

Pura vida !!!
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Old 02-12-2016, 02:43 PM   #6
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I studied Spanish many years ago with CPI for 3 weeks. At that time, their main location was in a small town west of Heredia in the central valley. I spent 2 weeks in the small town in the central valley, and 1 week in Monteverde. I did homestays at both locations. To be honest, I didn't have much interaction with either host. My Monteverde homestay was very spartan, and I was largely on my own there.

I was fortunate that I was there during a non-busy period when there were few other students. Therefore, I had one-on-one instruction for the price of group classes. I had a different teacher each week and all three were excellent. I learned a lot in 3 weeks and wish I had stayed longer.

I had my bicycle with me and the central valley location was much better for riding. I also went into San Jose by bus several times while there. Monteverde was wonderful for hiking in the adjacent cloud forest, but otherwise, there was nothing to do.

Many years later, I studied for 3 weeks at a language school in Chiapas in southern Mexico. Again, I had one-on-one instruction and did a homestay. That homestay experience was somewhat better. The teachers were very good, but I'm convinced that I didn't learn as much simply because my brain was 10 years older and couldn't retain new vocabulary as easily.

For the past year, I've been doing a Spanish-English language exchange via Skype with someone in Costa Rica. We do 1 hour in Spanish and 1 hour in English. Besides conversation, we ask each other language-related questions and correct one another. I also have been using duolingo. My language partner doesn't find duolingo useful, but I feel it has helped me.

I just returned from 2 weeks in Mexico with 2 friends who speak no Spanish, so I had to handle everything while there. My Spanish had definitely improved since a similar trip to Mexico a year ago. I have a reasonable degree of fluency and confidence now.

I found my language partner on the following free website:

The Mixxer - a free educational website for language exchanges via Skype | The Mixxer
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Old 02-12-2016, 04:08 PM   #7
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What level of spanish where you before you went? It seems like a real stretch to start with immersion.. but, like after a year of study it would be a lot easier.
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Old 02-13-2016, 09:24 AM   #8
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Anethum, great share and recommendations, thanks so much.

Jetpack, I've been studying for several years, and was comfortable dealing with three of the 15 (I think) verb tenses. Several students I met were brand new to Spanish, and seemed to be satisfied with the progress being made.

One big improvement I noticed was in the ability of my ear to hear individual words even at 'normal' speed.

I think the greatest value for me, was that the experience renewed my commitment to keep working on improving my skills.

And yes, agree wholeheartedly that age is making the learning process much harder than it might be otherwise.
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Old 02-13-2016, 10:53 AM   #9
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What level of spanish where you before you went? It seems like a real stretch to start with immersion.. but, like after a year of study it would be a lot easier.
I had just one semester of college Spanish, but also several months of weekly Spanish lessons with Berlitz that a former employer paid for years earlier. I did some additional studying on my own. In addition to that, I speak another romance language (French) fluently.

Personally, I think immersion would be fine for a newbie.
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Old 02-13-2016, 04:15 PM   #10
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Thanks so much for your "trip report" ElizabethT! Much appreciated!

I've had my eye on that school for quite a while. So it's great to hear from someone who attended.

I'd mainly considered the Monteverde location because we would probably chase birds and butterflies in the off hours. Especially DH.

Good to know about accommodations - we appreciate privacy too.

And good to have an idea of how they handle transfers.

Based on your report, though, I might consider more than one location.

Both DH and I have watched 1000s of hours of Spanish language TV, and our comprehension is very good (mine more than DHs), if perhaps a bit rusty because it's been a while. DH needs grammar drilling and practice speaking. I need a lot of conversational coaching to get to the next level.

We actually live in a Spanish speaking community, but most of our conversations are with waiters in restaurants or otherwise don't get past small-talk. And I'd rather work with a educated coach in an immersion environment.
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Old 02-14-2016, 10:00 AM   #11
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Thanks so much for your "trip report" ElizabethT! Much appreciated!

I've had my eye on that school for quite a while. So it's great to hear from someone who attended.

I'd mainly considered the Monteverde location because we would probably chase birds and butterflies in the off hours. Especially DH.

Good to know about accommodations - we appreciate privacy too.

And good to have an idea of how they handle transfers.

Based on your report, though, I might consider more than one location.

Both DH and I have watched 1000s of hours of Spanish language TV, and our comprehension is very good (mine more than DHs), if perhaps a bit rusty because it's been a while. DH needs grammar drilling and practice speaking. I need a lot of conversational coaching to get to the next level.

We actually live in a Spanish speaking community, but most of our conversations are with waiters in restaurants or otherwise don't get past small-talk. And I'd rather work with a educated coach in an immersion environment.
Ironically, the best weather of the trip was in the least interesting town - Heredia. Beautiful weather in the San Jose area, with A/C rarely needed (or found, apparently). Downside was the noise - barking dogs, crowing roosters, airplanes and nightly fireworks (they do love their fireworks there!).

Playa de Flamingo was quiet by comparison, but also hot and humid. I will say though, that I'd heard so much about the heat and humidity, that I was actually pleasantly surprised that it wasn't nearly as oppressive as I'd heard/feared. I would say AC is definitely mandatory, however, for sleeping at night.

Monteverde appears to be cold most of the year. It was cold when we first visited as tourists some years back, and still cold per a fellow student that is attending school there now.

So, as one would expect, each location is going to have it's unique of pros and cons to consider.
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